The Nashville Predators continued their west coast road trip with a stop at HP Pavilion to take on the San Jose Sharks. This game wan important game- as they all are at this time of season- as the Predators could leapfrog the Detroit Red Wings into 4th place in the Western Conference with a win.
Pekka Rinne started in net for the Predators while the Sharks went with Antti Niemi.
Once again, the Predators were facing a desperate team in the Sharks, who at the outset of this game were sitting 3 points out of a playoff spot with 78 points. For the Predators, this was going to be another contest where they had to match the intensity of a team that was fighting for their playoff life.
Early in the contest, the Sharks dominated the contest with puck possession and a good cycle game. Through the first nine minutes of the contest, the Sharks out shot the Predators 6-1.
Certainly an ominous start for the Predators.
The Predators would start skating and getting into the contest, and their first break came when Marc-Edouard Vlasic was called for high sticking Sergei Kostitsyn.
The Predators red hot power play made the Sharks pay for their transgression as Mike Fisher skated off the half wall and got the puck to Patric Hornqvist alone at the top of side of the net. Hornqvist was not challenged by the Sharks D, and he spun and put the puck in the top corner at 13:18 of the first period to give the Predators a 1-0 lead. This was Hornqvist's team leading 22nd goal of the season.
Throughout the first period, the Sharks did a good job in the neutral zone of slowing down the Predators speed and consequently the Predators had a difficult time setting up their offense. This was reflected in the shot totals for the first period, with the Sharks out shooting the Predators 13-6.
Going into the second period, it was going to be important for the Predators to control the puck and have crisp breakouts. The Sharks were going to keep coming at the Predators, and their offensive effort was going to have to improve.
The second period opened as the first had ended with the Sharks swarming the Predators, who seemed to be back on their heels at the start.
Although the Sharks were controlling the puck in the Predators zone, the Predators defense did a good job of keeping the Sharks to the outside and limiting quality scoring chances. The Predators had a few good scoring chances as well, but could not get anything past Niemi.
Pekka Rinne made a huge stop on Martin Havlat, who was alone at the side of the net to keep the game scoreless at the 14 minute mark of the second. Rinne was sprawled on the ice and manage to get his glove on Havlat's shot to deny the goal. Rinne had made some big stops in this game, none bigger than that.
Martin Havlat tripped Pekka Rinne in a dirty play and a scrum broke loose involving all the players on the ice. The result was a power play for the Predators, but the power play was ineffective, mounting only one shot on net.
A truculent second period ended with the Predators still leading 1-0 but on the penalty kill with David Legwand in the box for interference. The Sharks would have 1:49 of power play time to start the third period. The Sharks out shot the Predators 15-14 in the second period.
The third period would be one where the Predators had to match the intensity of the and desperation of the Sharks and keep up their offensive pressure. Niemi had been giving up rebounds, and the Predators needed to capitalize on their opportunities.
The Sharks tied the game 55 seconds into the third period as a shot from the point ricocheted to Joe Thornton alone at the side of the net and he buried the shot past Rinne, who had no chance on the play.
Game on, now, and it was time for the Predators to step up their effort.
After the power play goal by the Sharks, they began to dominate the Predators. The Predators had to kill of another penalty, which they did successfully, but the Sharks were on the attack and the Predators were back on their heels. The Predators needed to get their offensive effort going again and challenge the Sharks in their zone.
The Predators did respond and started controlling the puck and firing shots on Niemi. The Predators needed to get good follow up chances on the rebounds that Niemi was giving up.
They could not, just as the Sharks could not get a puck past Rinne, and for the second game in a row, the Predators were heading to overtime.
In the third period, the Predators out shot the Sharks 10-4.
The Sharks opened the OT with absolutely dominant play, aided by the Predators sloppy puck handling. Rinne made a great save on a breakaway by Dan Boyle to keep the Predators in the game.
Shea Weber took a penalty with 3.9 seconds left in the OT, and the Sharks Patrick Marleau missed a good scoring chance with a backhand just as the horn sounded to end the period.
So for the second game in a row, the Predators were going to have to decide a contest in a shootout.
San Jose would shoot first, and Martin Havlat was the first shooter and was stoned by Rinne.
Poetic justice after Havlat's earlier dirty play.
Craig Smith was stopped by Niemi.
Joe Pavelski was stopped by the stick of Rinne.
Andrei Kostitsyn lost the puck but got a weak shot away that was stopped by Niemi.
Ryan Clowe beat Rinne stick side to give the Sharks a 1-0 lead in the shoot out.
David Legwand was stopped by Niemi, and the Sharks captured the win in the shootout.
The Predators started slowly, weathered the Sharks storm, and fought their way back in this game. The fact is that the Sharks were the more desperate team and played like it for much of the night. The Predators effort was solid, but not good enough to capture the second point they wanted.
Coming out of this game, the concern is for the health of Paul Gaustad, who injured his hand in the third period and did not return to the game.
The road gets no easier for the Predators, as they face another desperate team in the L.A. Kings on Saturday night.
Time to re-group and get back to the winning ways.
My three stars:
1. Antti Niemi
2. Pekka Rinne
3. Ryan Clowe